HMA v Margaret Wade and Marie Sweeney

At the High Court in Glasgow on 18 January 2018, Lady Stacey sentenced both Margaret Wade and Marie Sweeney to six years and four months’ imprisonment after the two accused pled guilty to wilful ill-treatment and neglect of their two-year-old daughter Lauren, who died of malnutrition. On sentencing, Lady Stacey made the following statement in court:

“You have pled guilty to three very serious charges. The three charges relate to three separate children but as might be expected the circumstances of each offence overlap and the charges refer to the same basic ill treatment and neglect which exposed each of the children to the likelihood of unnecessary suffering or injury to health, and led ultimately to the death of your youngest daughter. I will impose sentences on each charge and I will make them concurrent with each other.

“You failed to provide the children with adequate or appropriate nutrition, failed to provide adequate accommodation, failed to bathe them or keep them clean, failed to provide the older children with appropriate clothing and failed to attend to their health needs by failing to provide appropriate medical and dental care or treatment.

“You caused the oldest child to have tooth decay at a young age and you failed to keep her clean. The middle child also had tooth decay and problems with food. She was not kept clean either. Neither of the elder two girls were properly clothes at times. Both had head lice.

“As for the youngest child, she had been provided with an inadequate diet by the accused as a result of which she was malnourished over a period of at least weeks before her death and was suffering from malnutrition. Complications arising from that malnutrition caused her death.

“When she was taken in ambulance to hospital Examination at the hospital showed no obvious signs of trauma or injury but there was very poor hygiene the child being dirty and malodorous. She was very pale with severely matted dirty hair, with bald patches and thousands of head lice. Her vest was old and discoloured and her nappy was soaking wet.

“At post mortem the child was found to be a small for age female child with evidence of severe neglect. She was filthy with severe lice infestation, with thousands of head lice crawling over her hair, face and upper chest. Lice eggs were seen at least  21cm from  the hair root,  suggesting that the lice infestation had been present for at least six months, but probably for over 17 months. The scalp hair was matted. There was hair loss, with regression of the hair line, bald patches, and areas of ulceration. The majority of the hair fell away from the scalp on massaging lice treatment into the hair. Cavities were seen in both upper front teeth.

“She was very thin and underweight. A major factor in the neglect of your daughter was the failure to provide her with an appropriate diet for a growing child who resulted initially in under nutrition and later acute malnutrition. The chaotic living conditions and lack of personal hygiene also placed her in an infected environment and combined with immunosuppression left her open to opportunistic infection.

“There was significant damage to her heart. There may well also have been terminal / late sepsis. The cause of death is complications of malnutrition.

“In 2007 a health visitor told you the living conditions required improving, and it was suggested that the accused Margaret Wade ought to establish a household routine to improve the poor hygiene standards at the property.

“In June 2014 in response to the concerns expressed by the school, the school nurse conducted an unannounced home visit to the locus and found the hall and living room to be in a state of disarray.

“She offered help in dealing with treatment of the children's hair lice as the accused refused her assistance to administer the treatment saying that they had been treated already.

A further visit found by a health visitor found that the house was not clean and you were told to get it cleaned.

“In July 2014 the visit was made to the scene by the health visitor and a social worker.  On this visit the house was found to be unrecognisable from the previous visit and was deemed to be clean.

“However you let it all go again and when your daughter died, the house was in a shocking state.

“There were hundreds of visible flies and insects throughout the whole flat. There was rubbish and dishevelled clothing lying throughout the property. All rooms were found to be littered with the remnants of food and food containers at various stages of decomposition in addition to dirty crockery.

“The police witness DS Cuthbert was appointed initial crime scene manager and described the scene as one of the most disgusting houses that he had ever seen in his police service. It was neither a suitable nor safe environment for children.

“I have listened to all that has been said on your behalf. I note the reports and I note your mental health difficulties.

“I note that you were offered advice in at least 2007 and 2014, but it appears you did not take it. Those children were dependent on you and you failed in your duties towards them.

“I have decided that only a custodial disposal is suitable in light of all that I have heard. I understand from the reports that you continue to see the other children and that the social worker believes it to be in their best interests that contact is maintained. I have borne that in mind in deciding on sentence.

“I direct the Clerk of Court to intimate details of your convictions to the Scottish ministers in terms of section 7 of the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007.

“The sentences I impose are as follows: Margaret Wade, charge 1 - seven years reduced to six years four months in respect of a plea of guilty; charge 2 - four years reduced to three in respect of a plea of guilty; charge 3 - four years reduced to three in respect of a plea of guilty; all backdated to 18 December.

“Marie Sweeney, charge 1 - seven years reduced to six years four months in respect of a plea of guilty; charge 2 - four years reduced to three in respect of a plea of guilty; charge 3 - four years reduced to three in respect of a plea of guilty; all backdated to 18 December.”